Two of my favorite critics have recently reviewed Josh T. Pearson’s Last of the Country Gentlemen. First up is Josh Hurst’s review:
…there is something strangely beautiful about all this sadness; indeed, this isn’t a record that wallows in misery so much as it confronts human frailty head-on, and demands that the listener do the same. What it amounts to is music that cries out, with every second and every note, for grace and redemption– and if Pearson can’t provide that, so what? At least he’s honest about it– “sweetheart, I ain’t your Christ”– and besides, the cry itself is enough to stir the soul, making Last of the Country Gentlemen a thing of perfectly broken, holy sadness.
Then there’s Andy Whitman’s review, written for Image Journal:
Photographs of Texas troubadour Josh T. Pearson reveal a man out of time. His rail-thin body, long hair, audacious, disheveled beard, and hollow eyes call to mind a shell-shocked survivor of Gettysburg or Cold Harbor, not the victim/protagonist of the petty internecine warfare of a failed twenty-first century marriage.
Listening to his solo debut album Last of the Country Gentlemen, it’s equally apparent that the wounds are no less devastating simply because they weren’t physically inflicted. It’s there to see in those vacant eyes. Something got lost along the way; a soul perhaps, or possibly hope, and Pearson catalogs the resulting trauma in hushed but bluntly horrific terms. This may be the prettiest and most becalmed music about despair you’ve ever heard.
And in case you missed it, here’s my review of Last of the Country Gentlemen.
Andy Whitman bemoans those who grow complacent about music as they grow older:
What I don’t understand is why so few people continue to seek out new music past the tender age of, oh, say 25. Yes, I know, life gets complicated. Marriages and kids come along, and so do careers, and all those things sap energy and time. But we’re talking about an unending, lifegiving source of joy, of connection at the deepest levels of our being. Why would you ever give that up? This isn’t the fountain of youth (are you listening, Mick Jagger?), and those who try to make it so end up looking fairly silly. But like all forms of art, it has the potential and the power to shake us from our lethargy, from the gray monotony of routine days, and awaken within us those emotions, sensations, connections, whatever they are , that make us feel more alive and more connected to those around us. The music itself is not God, but I would like to think, and I’m fairly certain that I know, that God works through this process. And people like my Eddie-Van-Halen-loving friend routinely give it up. It’s a part of the past. It’s nostalgia. It’s the good old days. Pardon me while I groan. What could be more stultifying, more crippling than being cut off from a source of life, and believing that the source of life was no longer available, that it was somehow unseemly and inappropriate?
It is, indeed, a sad thing to think of seeking after joy and beauty in music as something that’s only for the young ‘uns.
Germain Lussier reviews Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair — the long-awaited combined version of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films — and says that its small changes make it a much better film:
The print, which was the exact one that screened at Cannes — complete with French subtitles — played from March 27 (Tarantino’s birthday) through April 7 to mostly sold out audiences. After being out of town for the majority of the run, I was finally able to see the film on its final evening and it was a near perfect movie going experience. Four plus hours of bliss that make Kill Bill better than you ever thought it could be.
Pixar describes their creative process as “going from suck to nonsuck”:
Catmull and Pixar’s directors think it’s better to fix problems than to prevent errors. “My strategy has always been: be wrong as fast as we can,” says Andrew Stanton, Director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E, “Which basically means, we’re gonna screw up, let’s just admit that. Let’s not be afraid of that.” We can all work this way more often.
In fact, directors say that Pixar’s films will suck virtually until the last stage of production — problems are constantly identified and fixed. Finding Nemo had a massive problem with a series of flashbacks that test audiences didn’t get that had to be fixed, while Toy Story 2 had to be completely rewritten a year before it was released. (Pixar film release dates are set in stone, which serves as a constraint.)
What we see is not effortless genius. Through tireless iteration, toil, and (often) sleepless nights, the films start to come together.
And speaking of Pixar, some storyboard art for their upcoming film Brave was recently released. The film, previously known as The Bear and the Bow, will be set in mythical Scotland and follow the exploits of the studio’s first female protagonist. The film will star Kelly Macdonald (who replaced Reese Witherspoon as the film’s lead), Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, and Craig Ferguson. More info here.
PopMatter’s Kris Ligman recently played Mass Effect 2: Arrival and doesn’t like what it turned her character into:
I do not enjoy watching a character that I’ve nurtured for over 60+ hours of gameplay consign an entire planetary system to death without even dignifying the moment with a perfunctory button press (à la BioShock or Mass Effect 3). The narrative already asserts its character preferences over my own in enough situations without adding compulsory genocide to the list. When I import a new campaign to get my ideal playthrough together in time for Mass Effect 3, I’m fairly confident I will be leaving this particular mission unplayed altogether. If the game’s writing is determined to create straw men just so I have another breed of enemy to half-heartedly gun down, it can do so without my support.
CNN’s Lisa Respers France on the “extreme TV” shows such as Extreme Couponing and Freaky Eaters:
…no network has so thoroughly mined the world of the unusual as TLC, which over the years has found ratings success with shows about mega-families (such as “Jon & Kate Plus 8” and “19 Kids and Counting); little people (including “Little People, Big World” and “The Little Couple”); and the tiny tots who vigorously compete in beauty pageants on “Toddlers & Tiaras.”
TLC’s latest offerings include “Freaky Eaters,” about people with bizarre eating disorders and food addiction, and “My Strange Addiction,” which features those who battled obsessive behaviors like eating cleanser and sleeping with a blow-dryer.
Humane stories that offer a respectful look at otherwise-ostracized individuals, or exploitative freakshows? You decide.
The first time I heard Low’s new one, it was through an online stream– and while the album ultimately won me over in a big way, I have to say that this is the absolute worst context in which to savor the music of these slow-burn champs. Low’s music, it seems to me, has always thrived on turning the intimate into the epic; their best songs are the ones that take little details and blow them into melodrama, that layer simplicity into something sweeping, that conjur a thunderous sense of quiet. When I think of all the great Low songs, I remember them for their words and melodies, but also for little sonic details– for the shake and jangle of a tambourine, perhaps, or for the deep Neil Young-style harmonics. These are the kinds of things that simply don’t pack the same punch when you’re hearing them through tinny laptop speakers.
There’s a long-running theme in Japanese cinema regarding natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunami:
In September 2008, Hayao Miyazaki, the author of Spirited Away, attended the Venice festival to present his most recent full-length film, Ponyo. In this city so closely connected with the sea, the Japanese director explained why he chose to end the film with a tsunami, and why the Japanese celebrate nature in spite of its destructive power.
“There are many typhoons and earthquakes in Japan,” he said. “There is no point in portraying these natural disasters as evil events. They are one of the givens in the world in which we live. I am always moved when I visit Venice to see that in this city which is sinking into the sea, people carry on living regardless. It is one of the givens of their life. In the same way people in Japan have a different perception of natural disasters.”
True enough, in Miyazaki’s animated films nature dictates its terms on mankind. Ultimately the tsunami in Ponyo is beneficial for the country it wrecks, which with its ageing population and small coastal towns closely resembles the real Japan. But not all the pictures in Japanese films, whether animated or not, are underpinned by such environmentally aware animistic harmony.
Elsewhere: A collection of interesting links and articles that I’ve come across in the last week or so. Follow me on Twitter for more of the same.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.